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Short Subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

Opening Friday
GLOOMY SUNDAY (1999) (NR) As Hungary stands at the brink of World War II, a Budapest restaurant manager (Erika Marozsan) finds herself wooed by the owner, the pianist and a German admirer of Hitler. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.

IN AMERICA (PG-13) See review.

IN MY SKIN (NR) Marina de Van (a frequent collaborator with Francois Ozon) writes, directs and stars in this film about a woman who becomes increasingly obsessed with disfigurement after she suffers a minor injury. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS, EXTENDED EDITION (PG-13) The middle film based on Tolkein's Middle-Earth epic is so spectacular it makes Fellowship look like director Peter Jackson was just clearing his throat. The extended version, 43 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, restores some superfluous scenes that let the pacing flag. But other additions -- especially those with conflicted guerrilla fighter Faramir (David Wenham) -- neatly bridge the trilogy's subplots and enhance the moral struggles of a film that stresses mortal combat. --Curt Holman

LOVE DON'T COST A THING (PG-13) This remake of the 1987 Patrick Dempsey comedy Can't Buy Me Love gives a hip-hop flavor to the story of an unpopular high schooler (Drumline's Nick Cannon) who hires a cheerleader to pose as his girlfriend.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS (PG-13) In England's industrial midlands, a young mother (Shirley Henderson) can't decide between her klutzy boyfriend (Rhys Ifans) or her petty criminal ex-husband (Robert Carlisle). The joke is that director Shane Meadows tells the silly story through the grand gestures of spaghetti westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West. Most the performers are natural comics, but the Western cliches and sight gags run out of ammo all too soon. --CH

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (PG-13) An aging playboy (Jack Nicholson, cast to type) finds himself falling in love with the mother (Diane Keaton) of his latest nubile conquest (Amanda Peet). Keaton has been named Best Actress of 2003 by the National Board of Review for this film.

STUCK ON YOU (PG-13) The Farrelly Brothers of Dumb & Dumber fame return for this comedy about a pair of twins (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear) literally joined at the hip, who face difficulties when one tries to make it in show business. Cher plays herself.

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (HANDS OFF THE LOOT) (1954) (NR) Jacques Becker's 1954 French gem about the aftermath of a gold heist is of interest chiefly for: 1) Jean Gabin, pushing 50 but with women half his age throwing themselves at him (part of the film's unbridled sexism); 2) young Jeanne Moreau looking like a typical starlet of the period -- see her watch her feet in a brief dance number but make it look sexy!; and 3) casual drug use and nudity you couldn't have seen on U.S. screens at the time. At Lefont Garden Hills. --Steve Warren

Opening Wednesday
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (PG-13) See review.

Duly Noted
BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999) (R) Troy Duffy's violent, Tarantino-esque thriller depicts two brothers on a mission to reduce Boston's criminal element. Featuring Willem Dafoe and Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. Dec. 11. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565.

BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) (R) Rushmore director Wes Anderson made his scruffy debut with this likable tale of three larcenous slackers, led by the engagingly motormouthed, idealistic Dignan (co-writer Owen Wilson). The film never quite measures up to its hilarious early scene when Dignan's "gang" knocks over a book superstore. Dec. 11. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. --CH

HISTORY OF THE WORLD -- PART 1 (1981) (R) Sid Caesar's caveman provides the most graceful comedy in Mel Brooks' occasionally funny overview of human affairs, which features chapters in the Roman Empire, the French Revolution and the Spanish Inquisition -- the latter rendered as a lavish musical number. Dec. 17, 7 p.m., Mick's Bennett St. 2110 Peachtree Road. Free with dinner. 404-355-7163. --CH

LOCALS ONLY: A CELEBRATION OF ATLANTA FILMMAKERS (NR) IMAGE Film & Video Center presents an evening of short works from the Atlanta filmmaking community. Dec. 11, 7 p.m., Atlanta Fulton Public Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square. Free. 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920) (NR) Douglas Fairbanks first buckled his swash in this stirring tale of the masked swordsman. Featuring musical accompaniment by Don Saliers. The Silent Film Society of Atlanta. Dec. 12, 8 p.m. Eyedrum. 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. $5. 404-522-0655. www.eyedrum.org.

MONSIEUR BATIGNOLE (2002) (NR) In Nazi-occupied France, a Parisian butcher takes advantage of the deportation of a neighboring Jewish family, but faces a crisis of conscience when he agrees to give shelter to their son. Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m. Madstone Theaters Parkside. $8. 404-949-0658.

PASSIONADA (PG-13) An English cardsharp (Jason Isaacs) woos a sultry nightclub singer (Sofia Milos) with a rebellious daughter (Emmy Rossum) in this romantic comedy packaged to give a Big Fat Greek-style boost to the culture of Portuguese immigrants in New England. Peachtree Film Society. Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m. at Lefont Garden Hills Cinema, 2835 Peachtree Rd. $7.50 each ($6.50 for PFS members). 404-266-2850. www.peachtreefilm.org.

X2: X-MEN UNITED (PG-13) The sequel marks a step forward in the evolution of a satisfying superhero franchise by being more x-pensive, x-pansive and x-citing than the first. It's a half hour longer than X-Men, and that half hour has saggy pace and false climax problems, but the film's rival super-powered "mutants" each, in effect, provide their own money shot, especially Hugh Jackman's blade-fisted Wolverine and Alan Cumming's teleporting Nightcrawler. Dec. 12-18. Cinefest, GSU Student Center, Suite 211, 66 Courtland St. $5 ($3 until 5 p.m.). 404-651-3565. --CH

Continuing
BAD SANTA (R) Advocate for the anti-consumerist, retro-obsessed values of the splenetic counterculture, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) tries to apply his misanthropic perspective to mainstream Hollywood comedy. His alcoholic Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), who robs the same shopping malls where he plies his trade, is another antisocial cult figure infused with the values of Zwigoff's alternative comix imagination. But the director can certainly do better than this thin parody of the saccharine, smarmy Christmas comedy. --FF

BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD (PG) In an effort to appease his controlling Indian family, Toronto playboy Rahul Seth (Rahul Khanna) pays an elegant Spanish escort to pass as his fiancée. Sadly, the Pretty Woman plotline quickly flounders. This dopey, mostly dismal mess of a film tries to poke fun at both Bombay musicals and Hollywood romantic comedies, but ends up just poorly imitating the very material it attempts to pan. --Tray Butler

BUBBA HO-TEP (R) Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead trilogy plays an elderly Elvis -- or perhaps just a mentally-scrambled impersonator -- who defends his seedy nursing home from a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy. Phantasm director aspires to cheesy B-movie status and succeeds by that rather modest benchmark. Despite its dirty jokes and bargain-basement production values, the film works in some weighty points about mortality and Campbell's a hoot whenever he defends himself against supernatural enemies with Elvis' patented karate moves. --CH

DIE MOMMIE DIE! (NR) Charles Busch, the drag legend and writer behind Psycho Beach Party, shines in this adaptation of his stage work, a black comedy set in 1967 Hollywood. With shades of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Busch plays Angela Arden, a fading songstress whose prickly home life turns homicidal when her husband discovers her affair with a former TV star (Jason Priestley). A stellar supporting cast, including "Six Feet Under's" Frances Conroy as a back- biting maid, keep the laughs coming, even if its Serial Mom premise occasionally drags (pun intended). At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema. --Tray Butler.

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (PG) The Cat In The Hat is a dog. Rarely has a movie about having fun provided so little of it. In the title role Mike Myers does a total rip-off of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion, trying to be hi-Lahr-ious. The Cat drops in on the Walden kids, control freak Sally (Dakota Fanning) and rule-breaker Conrad (Spencer Breslin), and teaches them to have fun without consequences. This movie wouldn't even register on the Cat's "Phunometer." --SW

THE EVENT (NR) Parker Posey plays a district attorney investigating the assisted suicide of a man dying from AIDS in this film by Thom Fitzgerald. One by one, the suspects are questioned, and one by one, they trigger flashbacks that reveal more about Matthew's life. Olympia Dukakis provides a couple of moving scenes between mother and son, but this maudlin drama fails to build tension and most of it just rings false. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema. --Suzanne Van Atten

GOTHIKA (R) Halle Berry should plead temporary insanity for choosing this mentally-deficient suspense film for her first leading role after winning her Best Actress Oscar. She plays a prison psychiatrist who finds herself an inmate in her own penitentiary, but the plot's Kafka-esque possibilities are ignored for ghostly goings-on. French art-house director Mathieu Kassovitch gets drunk on own camerawork and doesn't bother to address the plot's persistent silliness, like Berry's ability to escape from her "high security" cell as easily as audiences can walk out of a thrill-free thriller. --CH

HONEY (PG-13) See page 59.

IMAX THEATER: Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey (NR) This world music sampler with the emphasis on percussion was filmed on five continents by the creators of the stage musical Stomp. The Stomp cast is augmented by a dozen acts representing the sounds that have influenced them, performing for about two minutes each. For all the time, money and effort involved the result should have been better. Through Feb. 6. Roar: Lions of the Kalahari (NR) The "circle of life" plays out in the Botswana desert in an unusually focused IMAX documentary, as two male lions fight for domination over a water hole. Kudos to Tim Liversedge, a rare filmmaker with the balls to set his camera in the middle of a pride of lions. Don't always believe what the narrator tells you and juxtaposed shots appear to show. Just be amazed by what you actually see. Through Apr. 30 Fernbank Museum of Natural History IMAX Theater, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu. --SW

THE LAST SAMURAI (R) Edward Zwick's samurai epic falls short of its potential with the miscasting of Tom Cruise as boozing, battle-weary soldier hired to help put down an insurgency (led by the charismatic Ken Watanabe) in 19th century Japan. The film's last act, with its lavish battle scene, lives up to its ambitions, but Cruise never conveys the haunted gravitas of his role, and only emphasizes the overly simplistic, romanticized screenplay. --CH

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (PG) Part animated cartoon and part live-action cartoon, this is the Funny Movie the Scary Movies tried to be, with a similar scattershot approach scoring far more laughs. It's got the wackiness, the violence and the pop culture (especially 1950s sci fi) references of the Looney Tunes of old, and not even one of Steve Martin's less inspired performances and a silly plot about a diamond that turns people into monkeys can slow it down. --SW

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING EXTENDED EDITION (PG-13) The first part of Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of Tolkein's famed fantasy trilogy storms theaters to prime the pump for the upcoming finale, The Return of the King. Extended by 30 minutes for the DVD release, the longer cut proves more choppy than the theatrical version, but benefits from sharp character moments that deepen its story. Fellowship remains an all-but-perfect immersion in an imaginary world that never loses sight of its human dimension. --CH

LOVE ACTUALLY (R) Love is all around in this British Love Boat (on dry land) that makes a case for the ubiquity of pop music. In the five weeks leading up to Christmas, dozens of characters initiate, maintain or break off relationships of a romantic, sexual, familial or platonic nature. Excellent casting makes each person stand out, whether the actor is familiar (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson) or not (Heike Makatsch, Andrew Lincoln). Richard Curtis, the witty writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, makes his directing debut with a commercial movie that gives commercial movies a good name. --SW

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (PG-13) Russell Crowe lightens up to play Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), captain of the HMS Surprise as he matches wits with a bigger, faster French ship in this Napoleonic-era nautical adventure. Director Peter Weir stays faithful to the spirit of Patrick O'Brien's novel, one of a beloved series that promotes maritime procedure over swashbuckling plot. The film's impeccable approach to detail will appeal more to History Channel fans than the general movie-going audience, but it boasts exciting set-pieces and a colorful cast of character actors. --CH

THE MISSING (R) Director Ron Howard adds some Blair Witchy thrills to this Western with a story that's suspiciously similar to The Searchers. Cate Blanchett gives a fiercely effective performance as a frontier doctor who reluctantly accepts the aid of her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) when a demonic Native American witch kidnaps her daughter. Howard's all-too-conventional filmmaking can't clarify the muddled themes about white civilization vs. Native American mysticism, but The Missing doesn't lack for good acting and a few suspenseful scenes. --CH.

MYSTIC RIVER (R) A continuation of the fixations with masculine strength, vengeance and the violent extremes that have defined Clint Eastwood's directorial and acting career. Sean Penn, a vast improvement on Eastwood's typically wooden action heroes, is a grieving father determined to punish whoever murdered his 19-year-old daughter. Eastwood's emotionally fraught film is hardly the masterpiece it's been made out to be, often weighed down by a ponderous, conventional police investigation plot and a tendency to spell out his aims in canned dialogue and elementary exposition. But as a sustained treatment of male grief and insight into Eastwood's auteurist fixations, Mystic River is undeniably fascinating. --FF

PIECES OF APRIL (PG-13) Novelist and screenwriter Peter Hedges has a great track record for maintaining tenderness despite his characters' comic foibles. But that ability fails him in this slight, flip story of a black sheep, April (Katie Holmes) living in a depressing walk-up on the Lower East Side, who invites her family to Thanksgiving dinner. Hedges attempts to inject some gravitas by having April's mother (Patricia Clarkson) dying of cancer, but his constant jokiness creates a distance from these characters. The usual dysfunctional family jocularity fits badly with a last-minute, disingenuous effort to extract emotional investment from his audience. --FF

SCARY MOVIE 3 (PG-13) Unlike Keenan Ivory Wayans' previous, R-rated horror spoofs, the third film's less restrictive rating means no nipples and no cum shots but still allows most of Pamela Anderson's breasts and hints of pedophilia and bestiality. The real problem with Airplane! director David Zucker's cameo-laden combination of the plots of Signs and The Ring with bits of 8 Mile and The Matrix is that it isn't funny. The filmmakers have lost their Wayanses. --SW

SHATTERED GLASS (PG-13) A gripping journalistic thriller with a goofy title, Shattered tells the story of the 24-year-old wunderkind New Republic reporter Stephen Glass who invented half of the stories he passed off as fact. Hayden Christensen delivers a believable performance as a world-class sniveler who used his boyish charms to cover his tracks. But the real thrills come from the film's willingness to heap the blame not on just one wayward cheater, but on an entire journalistic practice which rewards flashy, salacious, gonzo reportage and worries more about image than content. --FF

TIBET: CRY OF THE SNOW LION (NR) Directory Tom Peosay spent 10 years making this documentary about the plight of Tibet under the oppressive shadow of Beijing. It features narration and voice-overs from Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon as well as a musical contribution from R.E.M. At Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.

TIMELINE (PG-13) A Michael Crichton time travel novel hits the screen with an amazing lack of attention to detail, from the large to the small, as well as the factual, visual and aural. Student archaeologists go back to France in 1357 via a "fax machine for three-dimensional objects" and get caught in the middle of the Hundred Years War. Beam me out of here, Scotty. --SW

TUPAC RESURRECTION (R) Filmmaker Lauren Lazin uses deceased rapper/actor Tupac Shakur's interviews, lyrics and public appearances to form an in-his-own-words biopic (comparable to Imagine: John Lennon) that's surprisingly complex. The first half's chronicle of Shakur's rise in the film and recording industries could be a video press kit, but the increasing presence of violence and legal troubles combined with the film's exhaustingly rapid pace turn the film into a kind of fever dream of American celebrity gone awry. --CH

21 GRAMS (R) Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's (Amores Perros) drama is an anguished meditation on the mess and guilt left behind when a tragedy unites three disparate strangers. A grieving drug addict (Naomi Watts), an ex-con turned Jesus freak (Benicio Del Toro) and a gravely ill man (Sean Penn) waiting for a heart transplant find their lives intersecting in a film that recalls the tapestried existential angst of Magnolia. The film features a genuinely tortured, magnetic turn by Del Toro, whose fascinating character should have had his own movie. 21 Grams is overburdened by its melodramatic meltdowns and actorly moments that spell out the traumas in far too broad gestures. --FF

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